July 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Driving from Italy to China is ambitious enough in any vehicle, but a team of Italian engineers is to tackle the three-month, 8000-mile trek from Parma to Shanghai with four tiny Piaggio Porter vans. Converted to electric-drive and capable of little more than 30mph. With a driving range of two to three hours only. Needing eight-hour full recharges, which could be difficult in the Gobi desert or the high plains of Outer Mongolia. Oh, and the difficult bit: the vans are autonomously-driven, with laser sensors, cameras and artificial-intelligence systems.
Each van will have a technician aboard ready to hit the controls if necessary, however, and each pair of vans will follow a lead support vehicle (which will also carry petrol-powered generators for emergency charges). Roof-mounted solar panels will collect enough energy to power all the extra tech.
The point of the trip – funded by the European Research Council – is to test autonomous vehicle technologies with a view to implementation in truck convoys, industry and agriculture. The full story, with video-streamed progress reports to follow, is at the VisLab website.